How Did Marshawn Lynch Wind Up Playing an Oblivious Teacher in ‘Bottoms’?

Director Emma Seligman explains how she got the running back to engage cinematic beast mode.

How Did Marshawn Lynch Wind Up Playing an Oblivious Teacher in 'Bottoms'

Photograph: Patti Perret/Orion Pictures; Collage: Gabe Conte

The funniest movie of the summer—Bottoms, starring Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott and directed by Emma Seligman—happens to have a famous football player in it. This is not a brief and awkward cameo like Russell Wilson in the Entourage movie. It’s also not a situation where a Peyton Manning or Travis Kelce type parlays their natural humor as SNL host into a few scenes here and there. No, this is Marshawn Lynch—known by many as the guy who immortalized his distaste for answering reporters’ questions by repeating “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” at Super Bowl media day—and he plays a major role.

Lynch’s Mr. G is an air-headed high school teacher who finds himself heading up an after-school fight club organized by Edebiri and Sennott’s characters, who hope to use the club as an avenue toward having sex. And Lynch is all over this movie, in ways that will surely surprise people who only knew him as the stoic Seahawk who liked running through motherfucker’s faces. To be fair, Lynch, aka Beast Mode, has done some acting before. He played himself in Brooklyn 99, The League, 80 for Brady and the Netflix show Murderville, and slid into three episodes of Westworld as well. But this is his first feature film where he had to inhabit a character.

In a conversation with GQ, Seligman, the director, helped us understand how this movie came together—and specifically how she got Lynch to agree to be in an absurd comedy about queer teenage girls fighting each other. (Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Lynch was unavailable for an interview. Seligman, as a member of the Directors Guild, is free to talk.)

GQ: Once you decided on high school fight club, how did you go about deciding who would be in charge of the club? In this case, it happens to be Marshawn Lynch, but I’m wondering how you got to that point.

Seligman: We always wanted some man who was just kind of out of it but loves the idea of supporting women. He has no idea what’s going on literally in the group, but also has no idea what’s really going on in these girls’ lives and in women’s lives. We didn’t think too deeply about what we’re trying to say with this character. We just thought it would be a really funny opportunity for someone unexpected.

So did you go straight from, “We need a clueless man” to “Let’s call a football player!”?

We were like, “We’ll never get him,” but we wrote “Jon Hamm type” as the basis. At first, we were attached to the idea of a dramatic actor who’s never done comedy. Obviously, Jon Hamm now has done a bunch of comedies. But when he transitioned into comedy by doing Bridesmaids, everyone was like, “What?” We liked the idea of someone that makes you go, “What are they doing in this movie? What’s going on?”

Very slowly, we realized that even that felt expected. We were watching Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and Jamie Dornan is in it. I loved that movie so much. He was so great in it, but using the hot guy who’s only done dramatic roles has sort of been done now. It’s less inventive and creative. With Marshawn, it’s amazing that he happens to be a football player.

Lynch ran for 10,413 career yards with the Bills, Seahawks, and Raiders 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

How did you get Marshawn to do this? Was he suggested to you?

I can’t take credit for the idea. That was the head of our studio, Alana Mayo. She’s incredible, and she forwarded us all an article in Deadline or something about how his episode of Murderville was better than the others and he outdid all the comedians. Then I found out that show is all improvised and watched it, and I couldn’t stop laughing! I just thought, all we need is someone to do their thing and be a version of themself.

So we offered it to him, and then we had a phone call. He was like, “Do you have me confused with someone else? Like an actor?” I told him, “No, we want you.” I don’t think he even needed to ask me, but he might have asked me, “Do you know who I am? Did you know who I was before this?” I told him, “No, I don’t follow sports, I can’t admit to that. But you’re so unique and hilarious and it would be so fucking cool to have you in this movie and bring an audience that otherwise wouldn’t see it! I just think you’d be really funny in it and play off these girls really well!”

He still thought I was crazy—or not that he thought I was crazy, he just didn’t understand why I would offer it to him. So, it took a few conversations for him to feel comfortable. In our first conversation, he told me that his sister is queer and when they were in high school, he didn’t necessarily handle it super well. He felt like this movie coming into his hands was the universe giving him a chance to right his wrongs. That’s what he said. He walked her down the aisle. He felt like they were all good, you know? But his sister thought it’d be really cool if he did this. We had a couple more conversations about it, and eventually he said yes!

In his post-retirement days, it’s become so clear that Marshawn’s whole thing of never talking to the media was just about not wanting to answer stupid and boring questions. He’s funny! You just have to get him in the right setting.

Totally. He’s so authentically himself, always.

I thought it was so great how his playing style was so physical and bruising, and then in this movie he has a real gentleness to him.

Definitely. I obviously looked him up to understand who he was. I tried to understand what makes him him and why he’s the personality that he is. In terms of the gentleness, I really think that just naturally came from him. Even in our first two conversations on the phone when he didn’t know if he wanted to do it, I was so struck by how respectful and kind he was. Not that I expected him not to be kind! But he’s one of the most respectful actors I’ve ever worked with.

He kept saying over the phone, “You’re an artist, and I want to make sure I honor your words well and your craft.” I kept on being like, “That’s so nice of you to say. This is a comedy, and I want you, so trust me that you will honor the craft because I’m putting you in it and that’s what I want.” But he kept speaking so gently to me and the crew and the rest of the cast. He approached everything with so much care and sweetness. If that comes through in the role, that really just comes from him. That’s not what we really intended it to be. That just came from Marshawn.

Courtesy of Orion Pictures

I think the lazy take here is going to be, “Marshawn Lynch can act?” But beyond that, it sounds like he has a real understanding of the nuances of art. He cares about the craft, I guess.

He definitely does. Again, I’m not the sportiest person in the world, but he cares a lot about the team. He understands what everyone is doing, and he wants to play his part well. He kept going up to different crew members and asking what they do, making jokes with everyone, and making everyone feel comfortable and supported.

Were there ever discussions about not even having this role in the movie? Just letting the girls run the fight club themselves in an anarchist kind of way?

No. He was always super integral to the story, for sure. We wanted a contrast. I think if the girls were running it themselves, we wouldn’t be reminded of the world that we’re in and the absurdity of the world that we’re in. It felt necessary to always have that as a presence.

There had to have been people on set who were big football fans. Were they starstruck at all?

I remember when we were still in prep and we were doing location scouting and stuff, I told my AD [assistant director] that Marshawn was in the movie. He thought I was joking! I did catch a few other moments where—I hate to generalize, but it was all the bros on set—and any time they’d break the news to one another that Marshawn was in it, they’d be like, “No way!” That did make me feel like I had street cred with the bros. I felt like a cooler director, and in with the guys a little bit, for getting Marshawn Lynch.

I was so nervous to work on a crew of such a big size with so many people and so many guys. But then I could be like, [casual affectation] “Yeah, I got Marshawn.” I never saw anybody’s jaw drop, but I got to witness a few moments when people found out he was in it. They were pretty stoked. He has some improvs in the movie that hit different for the football fans.

Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures

Patti Perret

He definitely had more lines than I expected. He’s really in this movie! What surprised or impressed you about his acting chops?

I was really quite taken by how funny he was. I think everybody else had to hide their laughter, including the other actors. The scene where he’s going off on Ayo and Rachel in the gym, I was shocked by his confidence, especially because he told us how nervous he was. He was one of the greatest NFL players. People worship him—and he was nervous about getting his lines right! I was shocked by how much care he had and how much detail he wanted to put into it. There’s so much on the cutting room floor, too.

There’s one point where he’s getting mad at the girls where he says they were 42 faking for the bacon. I didn’t get it, but a handful of the guys behind the camera had to stifle their laughter. It was cute. He was one of the best improvisers I’ve ever worked with. I’m not overstating that. He improvised most of his stuff in the movie that ended up in the final cut! We couldn’t ever write something that would be as funny as what he gave us. He’d spew out the most brilliant jokes ever. I kept on encouraging him to do more improv. He’d be like, “Ugh, that stuff’s easy! I wanna get your words right!” I told him that it was so much better than anything we could have written and he was like, “I don’t care about this. I want to honor your work.” I’m so glad I got to talk about him this much.

Wow, the tenderness of Marshawn Lynch.

[laughing] There’s your headline!

Well, when we set up this interview, the working headline I had in my head was Marshawn Lynch Is For The Girlies. Was there anything about girlie world that you had to explain to him? Did he need a crash course in 2023 lingo or aesthetics or anything like that?

Not at all! He got it. He showed up, did his bits, made everyone laugh, and left. He bonded with the cast so much. They would just chat and chat and chat. I would walk to the green room and see him and Kaia [Gerber] chatting. Him, Ayo, and Rachel would do TikToks with each other. I hope the rest of the world gets to see those. Every now and then he’ll FaceTime us when there’s some sort of achievement for the movie. He’ll be like, “Young ladies, I’m so proud of you.” He is for the girlies. I support that statement.

This interview has been edited and condensed

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